Van McLain – guitars, vocals, percussion
Keith Nelson – drums
Dennis Laffoon – keyboards, bass, backing vocals
Keith Mitchell – lead vocals
Janet Jameson – violin, vocals, backing vocals
They were formed in the late seventies. After quickly gaining enormous popularity in the Kansas City area, Shooting Star became the first American group to be signed with Virgin Records. They recorded their 1979 debut album in England with legendary producer Gus Dudgeon, best known for his work with Elton John and David Bowie. The band gained national exposure when a number of songs garnerd moderate air-play on Album-oriented rock radio stations in the US.
Their initial line-up included Van McLain on guitar and vocals, Charles Waltz ..boards and vocals, Bill Guffey ..boards, Gary West on guitar and vocals, Ron Verlin on bass, and Steve Thomas on drums.
The Shooting Star story began one winter day in 1960 when 5 year old Ron Verlin moved into 5 year old Van McElvain's neighborhood in suburban Kansas City. They lived one block apart from each other and became good friends.
In February 1964 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show they, like so many other kids around the country, were hooked, and they drove their parents crazy begging to take guitar lessons. They put a band together with their brothers Craig McElvain and John Verlin and played along to Beatles records in Ron's dad's garage. They named the band The Shooting Stars, a name inspired by Bill Haley & the Comets. Two years later Van and his brother Craig moved away to a different school district, and their garage band split up.
Upon entering Shawnee Mission South High School, Van and Ron met up again. With the 50's nostalgia craze of 1971 brewing, they jumped at the opportunity to put together a band that played classic 50's hits. After seeing Sha Na Na in the movie Woodstock they added three dancers to the act and called the band The Shooting Stars featuring The Galaxy's. The band played their first gig at a local school. Sock Hops were so popular they began receiving offers during the next three years to play frat parties, country clubs and schools throughout the midwest.
Off to England
By 1974, Van had begun serious song writing, and the band decided to stop playing cover songs and perform their own music. Later that year they recorded a four song demo tape and planned a trip to London, England, to shop their songs for a record deal. On January 6, 1975, they embarked on a journey to London in search of fame and fortune. After three weeks of shopping their music to different record labels they were thrilled to be offered a recording contract with Arista Records.
Upon signing, The Shooting Stars were then offered the opportunity to play a showcase performance at the legendary Marquee Club in London. The club was the birthplace of such bands as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and many others. The band then made their way to Morgan Studios to record their first single, Take the Money & Run. Shortly after this record was cut, Steve Miller released his title of Take the Money & Run which became a huge hit. Arista Records then released The Shooting Stars from their contract, and they returned to Kansas City after having lived in London for several months.
In 1976 the boys persuaded fellow musician Gary West to join the group as a singer and song writing partner for Van. Gary had been a member of the premier Kansas City rock band of the 60's, The Chesmann Square. He had left the quartet and moved with the Chesmann's lead guitarist Jim McAllister to New York City in 1974. There they formed the group The Beckies with songwriter Michael Brown, formerly of the group The Left Bank, and former Kansas Citian Scott Trusty. The Beckies released one album on Sire Records. Upon Gary's return to Kansas City he and Van began songwriting in earnest. With Ron on bass, they added Steve Thomas on drums, Bill Guffey ..boards and Charles Waltz on violin and vocals.
In 1977, they shortened their name to Shooting Star and started recording demo's in Gary's garage, all the while playing gigs around the midwest. After saving up enough money and putting a press kit together, they decided to roll the dice one more time and try to secure another record deal in New York City. Through connections that Gary had made while a member of The Beckies, the band booked a showcase at the now infamous punk rock club CBGB's. A New York management firm was among the crowd who saw the band that night, and they offered them a contract. Shooting Star returned to Kansas City with management deal in hand to continue to write new material.
Six months later, in 1978, the band's management arranged for them to play another showcase at the famous New York club, Tracks. After that successful show three different record companies, Atlantic Records, Virgin Records and A&M Records, began a bidding war over Shooting Star. They all made offers to sign the band, but Virgin Records prevailed. Virgin, then a small British record label, was looking for a rock group to break into the US market. For that purpose, Shooting Star was their first American signing.
In May of 1979 they returned to London to record their self-titled debut album with producer Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame. In January 1980 the album Shooting Star was released, and they embarked on a national tour opening for Robin Trower. With their impressive debut the band gained popularity with songs "Last Chance," "Tonight," "You've Got What I Need" and "Bring It On."
With radio success, Shooting Star returned to the studio in 1981 to record Hang On For Your Life with producer Dennis McKay. The album generated hits with "Flesh & Blood," "Breakout," "Hollywood" and "Hang On For Your Life." In support of this record the band toured extensively with ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, Jefferson Starship and Journey. They did the radio shows Rock Line, King Biscuit Flower Hour, The Source and Westwood One. They also began headlining showcase clubs across the United States, setting attendance records as they went.
In 1982 the band began recoding their third album, III Wishes, at the legendary studio Caribou Ranch outside Boulder, Colorado. At the helm of this record was Journey producer Kevin Elson. Without missing a beat, they returned to touring with such acts as REO Speedwagon, John Mellencamp, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and others.
1983 saw their continued collaboration with Kevin Elson on their fourth album, Burning. This record produced radio hits "Straight Ahead," "Winner" and "Train Rolls On." While touring in support of this record, the band witnessed the departure of bassist Ron Verlin who had become disenchanted with the music industry.
In 1985 bassist Norm Dahlor was recruited to take over for Ron, and the band began to record their fifth record, Silent Scream, with producer Ron Nevison. This effort produced the radio hit, "Summer Sun." After completing this record the band was asked to record two songs for the movie soundtrack Up the Creek. The songs were "Get Ready Boy" and "Take It." Van, Norm and Steve were also the backing band on Ian Hunter's single Great Expectations. The band then toured with Heart, Bryan Adams and ZZ Top.
Calling it quits
In 1986, after eight years of touring and five albums, Shooting Star decided to call it quits. Over the next several years fans from around the world were frustrated by not being able to find Shooting Star records, now all out of print, while the band continued to receive radio airplay.
In July of 1989 V&R Records acquired the rights to The Best of Shooting Star. This release marked the first time that any Shooting Star record appeared on CD. The CD also includes two previously unreleased songs, the Christmas song "Christmas together," which had previously appared on Kansas City radio, and a new song by Van called "Touch Me Tonight." Enigma Records, a metal company that was starting to branch out into more mainstream artists, bought the rights to the album and retitled it "Touch Me Tonight: The Best of Shooting Star." In the November 4, 1989 issue of Billboard, the album secured a trivial place in history, becoming the first album to reach that magazine's pop albums chart without being available on vinyl record.
A Return... with Enigma
With the success of The Best Of, and fans' desire for new material, Shooting Star was offered a new recording contract with Enigma Records. Returning to the group were original members Ron Verlin and Van McLain To fill out the band, they recruited Dennis Laffoon ..boards, Rod Lincoln on drums and vocalist Keith Mitchell. The band then flew to Los Angeles to make a video for "Touch Me Tonight." The video received extensive airplay on MTV and rose to 67 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was the highest charting single of the band's career. The song's video also made the MTV request chart. The song also appeared in the Dolph Lundgren movie I Come In Peace.
In 1990 the band recorded their sixth album, It's Not Over. This album received critical acclaim throughout Europe and helped broaden the Shooting Star audience. The band toured with Bad English, Bryan Adams and 38 Special. After the release of this album, and with the general decline of classic rock music, the band went into semi- retirement, resurfacing every few years to play occasional concerts.
In 1998, after recovering from a fight with esophogeal cancer, Van was asked to perform at a cancer benefit concert in Chicago. On stage were members of Night Ranger, Cheap Trick, Survivor and 38 Special. Van received a heartfelt response from the fans and his friends on stage, sparking his interest in playing again. Upon retuning home from the show, Van began writing songs and contemplated recording.
In the summer of 1999, while vacationing in Nashville, Tennessee, Van was reunited with producer/engineer Kevin Beamish. Among many others, Kevin's list of credits include REO Speedwagon, Jefferson Starship, Elton John and Clint Black. Kevin and Van had met 20 years earlier while Shooting Star was recording their first album. At the time Kevin was a young engineer for Gus Dudgeon. Out of this chance meeting grew the plans to record and release Shooting Star's seventh album, Leap of Faith. The recording took place at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville, Tennessee from December 1999 through February 2000.
20 Years and counting
Shooting Star celebrated their 20th year as recording artists in 2000 with the release of Leap of Faith and a fall tour.
Shane Michaels joined as the band's new violinist in May 2000, replacing Christian Howes (1999–2000), who had replaced Terry Brock. Original drummer Steve Thomas returned to the fold in 2004 and singer Keith Mitchell left in the summer of 2005 after reported voice problems. In 2006, the group released the album Circles with Kevin Chalfant (ex-member of 707 and The Storm) handling the lead vocals. He was replaced in 2007 by Ronnie Platt who left the band in 2011 to work with Chicago band Arra: Shooting Star vocal duties were then split between Van McLain and Janet Jameson. Keith Mitchell returned as lead vocalist in 2012. Violinist Shane Michaels left the band in June 2008 to concentrate on another project, Flannigan's Right Hook, and was replaced by Janet Jameson. Bassist Ron Verlin, who'd left the group twice before (in 1984 and 1991), had taken temporary leaves of absence since his return in 1994, but departed permanently in 2009. Dennis Laffoon has since covered the position of bassist.